Fifteen Months after Shooting, Principals Earn Doctorates from UT

Elisa Luna and Amy Brace

In February 2010, a disgruntled teacher shot Inskip Elementary School Principal Elisa Luna and Assistant Principal Amy Brace. Brace recovered fully from a gunshot wound to the head, but Luna suffered a spinal cord injury and was paralyzed in the incident.

Despite this, both educators returned to their jobs at Inskip within six months.

On May 12-only fifteen months after the shooting-Luna and Brace further demonstrated their dedication and perseverance when they received their doctorates in leadership studies in education from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Both participated in the graduate hooding ceremony in Thompson-Boling Assembly Center & Arena.

Elisa Luna with her father

Although they yearned for a private celebration, Luna and Brace said they realized their presence at the hooding ceremony would garner public attention.

“We want to show the community we we are doing better,” said Luna, who donned leg braces and stood, balanced by Brace, for her graduation portrait. Both said they wanted to thank the public for the outpouring of support they’ve received since the shootings, and they also wanted to encourage others to persevere despite struggles or physical limitations.

For seven years, both Luna and Brace juggled their doctoral program coursework with their careers. Luna finished about a year later than planned because of the shooting. Brace finished on schedule but said the shooting did affect her studies.

“It made me appreciate the opportunity even more,” Brace said. “And working on the doctorate has given me something to focus on besides sitting at home and reflecting on what a rough year it was.”

They agreed that it was fitting that they finished their degrees and graduated   together.

“We’ve come through this journey and process together,” Brace said.

Brace said life at Inskip is pretty much back to normal.

Amy Brace receives her hood

“Elisa and I have adjusted. We’re both back at work pretty much full time. We support each other and take care of each other,” she said.

Although having a doctorate could mean new career opportunities-such as training future educators at the college level-both said they plan to stay put for now.

“I love working in a school no matter what letters are behind my name,” she said. “The best things that happen in my day involve kids who are five to eleven.”

Vincent Anfara, professor and chair of UT’s Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies, served as Brace’s major professor in the doctoral program.

“I have had the pleasure of knowing Amy since she entered the doctoral program,” he said. “It was very clear from the start that she was passionately dedicated to the education of students in urban settings.

“She continually asked the hard questions about how all of the knowledge and theory applied to the real-world experiences of students in urban schools, ever mindful of how her students’ lives would be improved. The very focus of her dissertation, the cultural competence of teachers and its impact on student academic performance, is an example of her focus on urban education.”

Elisa Luna receives her hoodRobert Kronick, professor of education psychology and counseling and coordinator of the full-service schools program, was Luna’s major professor. He said he was supposed to be out of town, but rescheduled his trip so he could attend the graduate hooding with Luna.

“We’ve been friends for more than a decade,” Kronick said. “She’s a brilliant woman. Bright, creative, and a great principal. We did not make one correction in her final dissertation defense.”

Luna also has worked closely with Kronick in the full-service schools program that provides much-needed services to at-risk students in several elementary schools and preschools. Her dissertation was on full-service schools.

“She’s been with me on the ground since day one,” Kronick said. “She’s worked in every inner-city school I’ve ever worked with-Sarah Moore Greene, Green, Christenberry, and Inskip.” All are elementary schools in Knoxville.

The Inskip shooting occurred on February 10, 2010.

Luna and Brace were in the school office just before 1:00 p.m., about an hour after classes were dismissed early because of snow showers, when fourth grade teacher Mark Stephen Foster, 48, of Clinton, came in and shot them both. Foster apparently was upset because he’d gotten an unfavorable evaluation and was told his contract wasn’t being renewed. He has been charged with two counts of attempted first-degree murder and is due to go to trial on October 3.

Eight days after the shooting, Luna issued a statement that included this special note to her students at Inskip: “I want you to know that Mrs. Luna will be okay. Something bad happened and some things will change at school, but everything will be okay at Inskip Elementary. I hope you continue to go to our great school every day with the same excitement and enthusiasm as always. I miss you all and look forward to the day I can see you all again.”

Brace returned to work later in the spring of 2010. Luna, who spent several months in an Atlanta rehabilitation center, returned for the start of the 2010-2011 school year.

“It’s been the hardest six months of my life, but I have been fighting to get back to my students and my staff. That’s where my passion is,” Luna told the News Sentinel on her first day back.

Luna received her bachelor’s degree from Middle Tennessee State University and her master’s and Ed.S. degrees from UT Knoxville. She previously served as an assistant principal at Sarah Moore Greene Magnet School, an administrative assistant at Inskip, the curriculum and instruction facilitator at Christenberry Elementary, and a special education teacher at Green Academy.

Principal of Inskip since 2004, Luna is credited with turning the once-failing school around. In 2006, the state removed Inskip from its targeted list of failing schools when the school made the highest Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP) gains in Knox County and seventh-highest in the state. Luna was East Tennessee principal of the year in 2008.

Brace received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from UT Knoxville. She has been the assistant principal at Inskip since July 2008. She previously served as the magnet lead educator at Sarah Moore Greene Magnet School and as a physical education instructor at Sarah Moore Greene.

She is the daughter of James Brace, the assistant dean at the UT College of Veterinary Medicine.

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